SAERC, Port Hawkesbury
Sunday, October 11
We (Winnie, Pat Andre and I) arrive at the SAERC auditorium at 7:00 to see a line-up of people waiting to take their seats. At 8:00 the fire alarm goes off but no one back stage is pays much attention to it until a lady tells us to take our instruments and whatever else we need because we must evacuate the building immediately. Outside the building no one seems to know what to do next. The firetrucks arrive at 8:07 and the performers, gathered out behind the building are getting a chance to meet each other. One guy who seemed to get a kick out of the whole thing was Conrad Ivitsky from Edinburgh, who was able to crack a few jokes about the situation. One of which makes for a great story headline “Celtic women causeway for alarm”. Conrad thinks he’s punny.
After all the excitement, the show got underway with Stephanie Wills and Jackie Dunn. Stephanie started the night off by playing a march followed up by strathspeys and reels. Next it was Jackie’s turn to play the fiddle and Stephanie to sit at the keys. Jackie played a slow air with strathspeys and reels. At the end of their set the crowd gave the duo a wonderful applause.
Corrina Hewat and David Milligan both from Scotland were on next. Corrina plays the Celtic harp with such a graceful feel it is as though the strings come alive. During her time on stage Corrina not only played the harp but she also sang in beautiful voice. Accompanying her was David Milligan on piano. David has a very distinctive style of playing which adds a wonderful melodic sound to whoever he accompanies.
Margo Carruthers followed Corrina and David and was joined by Stephanie Wills and David Burke. The first song that Margo sang was Oran Dha’n Mhira or “Song For The Mira”. With Margo’s stunning voice she gave the song all the respect that it deserves. Her last selection was another one from her album Talent of the Bards, a puirt-a-beul consisting of three great reels, “Miss Wedderburn”, “Soldier’s Joy” and “The High Road to Linton”.
Winnie Chafe, Pat Chafe, Blanche Sophocleous and I were on next. Winnie got things underway with “Stella’s Trip to Kamloops” followed by two strathspeys and reels. During the second strathespey I came out to dance, much to the audience’s surprise, as I had not been introduced with the rest of the group. After that lively opener Blanche sang another song before finishing their set. Their last number started off with “O’Carolan’s Concerto” followed up by reels. During “McNabb’s Hornpipe”, Blanche put down the guitar to do a few steps for the audience before I joined her on stage. The audience must really have enjoyed this quartet as they gave us the first full standing ovation of the night.
A wonderful Gaelic singer from Scotland, Margaret Bennett was next in line to perform. She has a voice that cannot be mistaken for anyone else. It is pure and distinct and she grabbed the attention of everyone in the audience. Although Margaret was not on all that long, she left a lasting impact on all who had the opportunity to hear her that night.
The last performers of the first half were stepdancers Dawn and Helen MacDonald from New Waterford accompanied by Stephanie Wills and Jackie Dunn. Dawn and Helen are no strangers to performing on stage, they have been dancing around the island for many years now, in festivals and concerts.
Eleanor Shanley got things underway in the second half, accompanied by guitarist John McLoughlin. The first song she sang was a beautiful story of one girl’s hardship while working in the Magdalin Laundry. The second song she performed was called “The Dawning of the Day”. This was a lively song which had a feel to it that made you want to get up and dance, John McLoughlin played guitar during this song. John also sang backup on all the pieces. The last song she left us with was truly a bouncy, lively, get off your seat and dance song called “It’s Not What You’re Born With But What You Choose to Do”. It had a wonderful chorus to sing along.
Now as you know this was an evening of Celtic Women, although many brought males to accompany them. The next performer did have a male accompany her on piano but she also had another fellow with her – Conrad Ivitsky. Now outside I didn’t think anything odd about this guy but things change . . . sometimes good, sometimes, well . . . we’re not too sure. Conrad arrived on stage in a red dress and pumps, and if my eyesight serves me right I do believe I saw some lipstick on his face. Never have I heard an audience laugh so hard before the musicians even started playing as I did this night. But everyone was a good sport about it. Even Catriona said, “Wouldn’t you kill to have legs like that?”, to which most people replied “Yes.” They started off with a fiddle tune which was written for the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society followed by two Shetland reels. Catriona is a young fiddler who has already made a name for herself, this is certainly not the last time we will hear of her. During her performance she played a few different numbers all with great precision and flare. And Conrad deserves recognition as well, even though he was a few inches off the floor in those shoes, he could still maneuver pretty well with that bass. This performance was very entertaining musically as well as visually.
Mairi MacInnes of South Uist was the last singer to take the stage. She performed a selection of songs which truly captivated the audience. Altan, the big act of the festival, joined her on stage. Once the crowd saw them arriving they burst into wondrous applause of delight. They started things off with a toe-tapping set, followed up by a great set of reels, a couple of which can be heard played around here. During this set, a man came out of the audience and started to do Irish Reels right on stage with Altan and then went back to his seat after a couple of minutes. The crowd was really loving the whole thing.
Wow is probably the only way I can describe their performance. Never have I seen or heard tunes played so lively and with such great speed. Altan also performed a couple of songs before they left the stage. Everyone’s toes were still tapping, probably trying to catch up to their playing.
And now for the finale. Stephanie, Catriona, Corrina, Altan, Conrad (in jeans and a shirt), Winnie, Altan, Pat . . . everyone came back out to play in the final number. They ended up with two great reels “Mrs. MacLeod’s” in G & A along with “St. Anne’s Reel”. In all my life I have never heard Cape Bretoners play these tunes so fast, but what a way to end the night, with Scots, the Irish and, of course, Capers all performing together on what was truly a night to remember. Of all the shows I saw during the festival this had to be my favourite. And I’d give Conrad Ivitsky a ten for his look and performance in the dress.